Lack of Landlord Innovation is the Problem Behind Return to Office Calls
Posted on May 29, 2023
As the management consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers faces its Waterloo pinned against a Hougoumont of public scrutiny selling Australian government secrets for profit in a corporate era of unparalleled greed, C-suites across the globe have finally found themselves mired in truth too. Three years into the pandemic, their Covid-denial has let the disease infect their operational status quos.
Despite assurances from many media health-darlings, expert Covid minimisers, and GPs from the school of quackery that Covid would be over by now or at least as “minor” as the flu (influenza has never been minor), hospitals across Australia are again straining under patient overflows, schools are reverting to home learning, tens of thousands of Australians are still weekly reporting ill with the disease—and businesses are struggling against supply and patronage shortfalls. The health consequences of Covid-19 and its insidious Long Covid have never abated. Last night news broke that China will soon report 65 million new Covid cases a week.
So, Australians are working from home. They’re refusing the prospect of unsafe workplaces and time-wasting commutes. Australians have declared that in an era of wage theft, serial inflation, hyper rents, and interest rate hits that their lives have value too.
The property lobby doesn’t like it tenancies are under-utilised; their sway over leases is under siege. Thing is, like PwC’s allegedly undeclared self-interests, the property lobby is awash with landlords in the halls of business, politics, and media.
Mainstream news houses continue to flog the “return to office with urgency” narrative. They’ve called working from home unpatriotic. They’ve called wage earners greedy. And it’s journalistic fraud.
Businesses were downsizing their office footprints and workforces long before Covid-19. The “remote office” had already promised a balanced work-life future; IT infrastructures supported it. Working from home would contribute to the 21st Century’s low-carbon world.
In a nutshell then, the call to return to the office camouflages a weakness in the corporate business psyche today.
Landlords do not make good capitalists. They do not understand that the philosophy of capitalism is “innovate or die” and they don’t want to.
Profit-making in the post-9/11 zero-percent interest rate milieu has spawned all manner of laziness-faire. With the exception of an “Enron”, CEOs have felt emboldened to keep pushing avarice in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis that saw none punished.
The problem of the remote work reality then, is with the property owner—the commercial landlord.
The irony is, few know what a “problem” is let alone seeing themselves as one.
Originally published February 20, 2014, adapted here.
Why Businesses Need Problems Not Challenges
Someone walked into a bar and ordered a beer. The barkeeper said, “You’re not looking too good today”. The person stared at a glass and said, “Yeah, I feel challenged.” The barkeeper said, “Well that’s a problem.”
There once was a time when businesses thought in terms of “problems”, a golden age of commerce maybe forty years ago. Science thrived on it. It was a time of innovation and R&D.
Then schools stopped teaching grammar. Illiterate hippies found that daisy chains didn’t make warm clothes, and someone came up with the idea:
Let’s just be positive, man.
And things went into the groovy-crapper from there.
How many have heard a manager say, “We don’t have problems in this organisation: we only have challenges”? It usually comes right before their organisation flubs a client, snafus a restructure, or posts a billion-dollar loss.
It’s absurd and it goes together with mantras like:
There’s no I in team.
Of course, there is. Without it people wouldn’t “innovate” and that’s a particularly valuable “I”. Ever heard the maxim:
Innovate or die?
Having “challenges” is spin and spin is about avoiding responsibility. With spin you don’t need to innovate. You simply need to fool yourself.
That’s why we’re beginning to see headlines that complain: “My employees don’t care.” Of course, they don’t. Simply put, if a business can’t admit responsibility, why should its workers?
Spin is an ugly thing. It’s turned society into a mob of sceptics. Yet, businesses wonder why revenue is drying up.
Any business today that thinks spin is smart, is on the wrong end of the economic wall. No amount of faith in the Chinese consumer is ever going to fix that. China hasn’t had any “problems” for sixty years and what a powerhouse of innovation it’s turned out to be.
You see, problems require ownership. Challenges are merely phenomena.
So, the next time you read a memo that says “our new product line is proving a challenge owing to a less than optimal customer uptake”, demand a re-write like:
Our department didn’t think hard enough when it came to the issue of customers accepting our new line. It’s a problem that my team will tackle head-on with an innovative solution.
Or to predict a news story soon to come, you may read: “Supermarkets blame society for rising theft from their self-service checkouts. ‘It’s a challenge,’ one executive said.”
Hopefully instead you’ll see:
Supermarkets admit a rise in theft from their self-service checkouts. ‘We failed to forecast human instinct as a problem,’ one executive said. Chains plan to return to full-service checkouts by year-end. ‘It didn’t take my team a lot of innovation to come up with that solution.’
What then is the commercial landlord’s problem in 2023?
It isn’t working from home. Remote work has sprouted lucrative economies encompassing suburban retail, convenience, and service providers. At the micro level, working from home is a cost centre reprieve and in no way inhibits productivity where a business’ people leaders know their game.
The landlord’s problem, then, is as old as business itself: Progress cannot be denied.
Embrace the new workplace revolution and repurpose your inventories. Build it and they will come but the central business district and the head office are dead. They began dying decades ago.
And you’ve known it all along.
© 2014 and 2023 Adam Parker.
Picture Credit: © 2014 Adam Parker.
Tagged: Covid-19, Office, CBD, Return to Work, Innovation, Landlords
You must be logged in to post a comment.